Tow and impound fees

The term “dog and pony show” hardly covers it. The lawyers and lobbyists who tied up the Clark County Commission for several hours Tuesday would have hauled in the Flying Wallendas, handed out popcorn and fired a tutu-clad Commissioner Steve Sisolak out of a giant cannon, if allowed.

Underneath all the showmanship, it came down to this: Tow yard operator Bobby Ellis wanted a cut of the lucrative Clark County tow and impound fees now going mostly to the Ewing Brothers and Quality Towing.

Proponents of Mr. Ellis’ proposal tried and failed to get their changes enacted at the Legislature last year. Tuesday’s version of the “Footlight Parade” was merely an attempt to get Mom to say OK after Dad said no.

Fortunately, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani had done her homework. She exposed the proposal as a carbon copy of what had been turned down in Carson City and firmly opposed an ordinance drafted “for the benefit of one person.” Commissioners wisely voted it down, 4-3.

That action notwithstanding, Clark County residents need relief from today’s dominant tow and impound scam.

If police believe a car needs to be towed after an accident, a drunken driving arrest or even illegal parking, of course the towing company should receive a sensible fee for its labors. But when storage, access and “lien notification” fees are added to the initial towing charge, an owner who takes more than a week to raise the cash (or get out of jail or the hospital) can expect a $700 bill – as much as the car may be worth.

This is no accident. The tow and impound operators want possession of that car. They make good money selling vehicles at auction.

First, the law needs to be changed. It’s not necessary to impound many vehicles that are hauled away. Unless police need the car as evidence of a crime, owners must be specifically informed they can choose their towing service (including AAA, if they’re members) and can further specify that the car be towed to their home address or to any commercial garage or repair shop they choose. Then officials should review these entire fee structures and set caps so workers who depend on their cars to stay employed don’t end up on the streets over a minor collision or parking fine.

Yes, Clark County’s tow and impound system needs reform. But the proposal wisely defeated by the County Commission Tuesday was not that reform.

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